News of Levon Helm’s death may have only garnered a shrug unless you had an inkling of who this man was. In confession, I would have been one of those who shrugged. But music is a journey and I make it a point to follow every path set before me. Word of Levon’s final days came to me from a tweet by Patrick Carney of the Black Keys and I was driven to find out more about this man. My first stop was his Facebook page where his wife and daughter posted this announcement on April 17th.
Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey. …
Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration… he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage…
We appreciate all the love and support and concern.
From his daughter Amy, and wife Sandy
As I read the thousands of comments I was struck by the fact that this man was deeply loved and not just for his music but for the kind and gentle soul that he was.
Levon was a member of The Band and he sang lead on many of their most popular songs. He had a recognizable voice and it was this voice that made those songs so remarkable. He was quoted as saying “The way to do it is to put as much life into the song as I can. You can either get it to breathe or you can’t.” Levon Helm did.
To acquaint you here he is singing Ophelia. Not one of their best known songs but one that showcases his unequivocal style.
He was a man with a twinkle in his eye and a lady-killer smile that told you everything would be alright. Take a look at this clip as he talks about the midnight ramble. This man could even make a match interesting.
In 1997 Levon was diagnosed with throat cancer and after 28 radiation treatments was left with no voice. When asked later in an interview he humbly said “Always considered myself a drummer, besides never cared much for the sound of my own voice.” This setback in no way ended Levon’s music career. It simply opened a new door. He began creating music with his daughter Amy and, due to financial problems, started up the Midnight Rambles. These were concerts in his Woodstock, NY barn. At some point throughout this journey the good lord decided it was too soon to silence Levon Helm and his voice returned. This wasn’t his old voice. It was a voice born of determination and suffering and it had stories to tell. And man could he tell stories.
His next three albums, Dirt Farmer (2007), Electric Dirt (2009) & a live album Ramble at the Ryman (2011) were all Grammy winners.
I’ll leave you with a song from Electric Dirt. It says it all. You will be missed, Levon. Deeply missed. Thank you.